Day 6 on the Great Ocean Walk – Gellibrand River to the 12 Apostles

It’s 4 March and a beautiful 26oC day for our final hike. Today we start at the Gellibrand River camping ground at Princetown and finish at the 12 Apostles visitor centre (with the crazy expensive water).

We’re off by 07:45 (an all time record!) to do the usual time-consuming shuffle of cars to the finish and start points. For example, the drive from Bimbi Park to the visitor centre is 75 minutes.

Gellibrand River is very pretty and I can see a wetland boardwalk which would be a must-see if we weren’t hiking. There’s plenty of bird life today – yellow tailed black cockatoos, a few murders of crows (they’re a bit creepy), blue wrens, butterflies and other assorted critters.

Kim and Aileen at the starting point of today’s hike

ALONG THE PATH

We hike along cliff tops through coastal scrubland and low heath, before stopping at 11:00 for a cuppa at a lookout with spectacular views all the way up to the 12 Apostles. We take time to ponder life, death and other imponderables for a long while before tramping onwards.

Stopping for morning tea

There’s been a lot of effort expended into making the path … it crosses the tops of dunes, cuts down into the back of them, then into 6-10 foot high scrub, or across rocky areas with shrubbery that’s only centimetres high. There’s board walk, sunken boards, sand, gravel, dirt. It’s beautifully made (as is much of the GOW) and a pleasure to walk on.

In the distance we can see the rock stacks of the 12 Apostles – rather special seeing them inch closer and closer. Down there we knew there’s 13.2 million tourists milling about, but we’re walking this bit completely on our own. Delicious.

Views down to the 12 Apostles

COMMEMORATION TIME

Near the end there’s a plaque set into the ground commemorating the Great Ocean Walk. Most tourists wouldn’t see this because it’s still a fair hike to the visitor centre. We take a bunch of photos to celebrate that we made it, even though we couldn’t hike the whole distance due to extreme heat.

As we leave, a young German guy bounces into the commemoration area and I take a photo of him leaping into the air. Later, at the Gibson steps, Daryle stays with the packs at a lookout while the other four walk down the steps to the beach (with some of the 13.2 million tourists). The German guy bounces into the lookout and Daryle offers to look after his pack so he can enjoy the beach unencumbered. That was great except he lingered down there forever, oblivious to the fact he was keeping five people waiting while he endeavoured to have a swim in the very dangerous surf. He was, in Australia vernacular, a selfish idiot.

IRISH MEETING!

At the 12 Apostles visitor centre, we bump into James and Aoife (what was the chance of that)! They’ve been stuck in Lavers Hill and Princetown for two (weekend) nights where there was nowhere to buy food, and no buses running. The bus was finally arriving today so they were madly scoffing edibles and waiting for it to turn up. Lovely to see them before they head off on their next great adventure in South Australia. Both looking well, kisses goodbye!

FINAL APOSTLES PEEK

We take another quick look at the massive 45 metre limestone structures that make up the 12 Apostles. The light and clarity are not as good as the other day, so chuffed we saw it in a truly stunning weather.

The sight of them really leaves you awe-struck in wonder – they’re enormous and stunningly beautiful. There’s only eight stacks left as five have fallen down since they were discovered. The surrounding cliffs are some 70 metres high.

The sea and weather have gradually eroded the softer limestone, and caves and arches have formed in the cliffs, and rock islands up to 45 metres high were left isolated from the shore. Fabulous stuff.

LUNCHTIME

Into the car and off to Port Campbell for lunch. For the first time, it’s cool in the shade so jumpers and coats on at our picnic table. The rest of the day is spent looking at London Bridge, the Grotto and the Arch – all stunning formations in their own right.

At the Grotto we meet a delightful honeymooning Chinese couple and a pair of young American lasses, and we take photos for each other. It’s an internationally flavoured afternoon.

LAST HOURS

We spend our last evening trying to finish the mountain of food (ergh, I’ve put on weight), a mad pack, then sitting back for a relaxed chat. One thing we note are the huge numbers of dead gum trees as you drive along the road to the lighthouse. Turns out the koalas have eaten them to death. That’s what you get when you destroy habitat (farmers take note) and push native creatures into an ever-decreasing space. The poor souls eat themselves out of house and home.

The next day we head back to our respective homes, another great hike under our belts and keen as mustard for the next one. Watch this space!

Day 5 on the Great Ocean Walk – Moonlight Head to Wreck Beach

A cooler day so we decide to walk from Moonlight Head to Wreck Beach. While it’s only 10 km, it’s tricky working out start and end points that work. Literature says it’s a difficult but rewarding walk involving 333 steps down to Wreck Beach, with the anchors of the Marie Gabrielle (1869) and the Fiji (1891) wedged in the rock – a reminder of how treacherous and dangerous the sea can be along this sweep of coastline.

Fortunately we sleep well despite the heat. The fan cooled the hot box cabin a little, a cool shower just before retiring, wet bath towel over the body, and life is good. A cooler wind smashed leaves, nuts and twigs onto the roof of the kitchen during breakfast, and a teeny bit of rain ramped up the humidity.

BOOT NEWS

The great thing about today is Kim spoke with a lady who owns a shoe shop. She suggested to loosen the laces around the toes, tie a knot below the ankle to keep these loose, then tighten the laces above that point. This enables the toes to move freely, but keeps the hiking boot firmly in place. I did this and it worked a treat …no more toe pain for the rest of the trip. Such a simple remedy!

OFF TO MOONLIGHT HEAD

The usual drive to the end point with both cars begins, then a trek to the start of Moonlight Head with one car. It’s taking up a lot of time to do this each day so I can see why others hike and camp the entire route – it certainly saves a lot of commute time.

To get to Moonlight Head is a little weird and wonderful. You need to travel about 15 kilometres past Lavers Hill towards the 12 Apostles, then take the turn off for Moonlight Head Road. After 10 minutes along an unsealed road, you arrive at a car park.

The start point is the edge of a farm, which the owners have managed to denude of any living thing other than a few interested cows. Love to know why farmers continue to feel the need to completely strip the land. And we wonder why the climate is changing.

A climb over a style, a wash of the boots to prevent cinnamon fungus, and off we tramp into the forest.

My goal today is to take creative photos – whatever takes thine fancy. Kim likes the idea too, so the pair of us dawdle along in a happy fashion photographing ferns, flowers, sticks, rocks, dead sea creatures, shells etc.

Near the entrance to Wreck Beach, we deviate to look at the 1905 Moonlight Head cemetery. It’s nicely done with a lovely entrance, but not too many graves to peruse yet. One could take that as a good thing!

WRECK BEACH

There’s a degree of conjecture about the number of steps down to Wreck Beach. We counted and got 333. Other websites say 366, 322 etc. The steps themselves weren’t that bad – just take your time. Happily, coming back up didn’t seem to take as long as going down. However, you want to do this walk during low tide otherwise you can’t see the anchors.

A cuppa and lunch on the rocks, then off on our separate ways for a good fossick – Aileen for sea glass (she makes beautiful jewellery with it) and the rest of us for shells and other titbits. Very cloudy, trying to rain, lovely cool temperature though. Eventually we reach the section of the beach where old anchors are embedded into the rock.

A LITTLE SHIPPING HISTORY …

Information taken from the 12 Apostles website:
The Marie Gabrielle, a large steel hulled French registered and crewed barque ran aground at 1am on Wreck Beach, just west of Moonlight Head. The crew waited until daylight and all got to shore safely in the ship’s boat. Four crew members stayed with the boat with the remainder heading west along the coast bound for Cape Otway.

Without water and food and faring badly by the third day, the crew came across the lightkeeper’s children on a beach below the lighthouse. The frightened children, not understanding French and alarmed by the crew’s dishevelled appearance, ran off and got help from the lightkeeper Henry Ford.

A rescue party was sent to recover the remaining crew and all were hosted locally for over a month until the twice yearly lighthouse supply boat could return them to Melbourne. Mystery surrounds the fate of South Pacific islanders that were also crew on the boat.


You do have to watch where you walk on Wreck Beach. There’s lots of holes filled with water and creatures, but it’s a pleasure to wander around and see what’s in them. Photographing the anchors against various backdrops and in different lights would be delicious.

Back up the 333 steps, into the car and off to Port Campbell to check out Sow & Piglets, a local micro-brewery and backpacker’s lodge. Clean as a whistle, a kitchen to die for, not a single fly in sight – be great to stay here. Interesting spot for a drink with quirky decor which Kim and I loved. Sadly I’m not into beer, so a strawberry stout did the trick … it was pleasant enough and a sure-fire way to relax.

Back late at Bimbi Park and its ubiquitous flies in the kitchen and dining areas. Daryle cooked a staggeringly good pasta with zucchini, mushrooms, garlic, cream and Worcestershire sauce. We were in heaven … what a way to go!

Read about Day 6 …

Day 4 on the Great Ocean Walk – Castle Cove, Johanna Beach et al

Another extreme weather day so hiking is suspended due to high fire danger. It’s already hot at 5.30am so we decide to watch the sun rise at Castle Cove.

Castle Cove is where we were supposed to have finished the previous day. Turns out the surfers are more interesting than the sunrise. It’s very pretty though, and a bevy of humans come and go as they check out the surf from our lookout.

Later we head to Johanna Beach for breakfast and arrive to find the main camping ground overflowing. A couple of young ladies say they’d booked and paid for the campsite, only to arrive and find someone else was in it. Personally I’d have chucked them out but they were too polite and found another site which was windy and unpleasant.

We find The Perfect Spot at the hiker’s-only camping area with splendid views over the beach, a wooden shelter, toilets (with a view) and picnic tables and it’s out of the hot northerly wind. When you’re hiking, that’s perfection.

Fooling around at Johanna Beach

After scoffing muesli, yoghurt, berries and coconut milk, we debate our next move. The thought of returning to the hot box cabin at Bimbi Park is seriously unappealing, so we decide to visit the 12 Apostles, even though we weren’t planning to see this until the last day.

It’s extraordinarily hot, my wet towel around the neck comes to the rescue again.

The centre at the 12 Apostles is sheer tourist rip-off territory … A$3.95 for a bottle of water. There’s a queue of people buying, although there’s nowhere else to buy foodstuffs around here. They really need an Information Centre and reasonably priced cafe.

Even though I’ve seen the 12 Apostles in recent years, it’s still a thrill to see it again, particularly as the air is clear and the sky a beautiful blue.

Section of the 12 Apostles

There’s hundreds and hundreds of tourists from all nations. After the serenity of the bush, it’s hard to reconcile the crush of humanity here. We enjoy strolling about in our own time – it’s extraordinarily beautiful when that sky is so blue.

At Port Campbell, we check out the beach and shops. It’s a lovely spot, well worth a visit. The lifeguard suggests we visit Timboon for icecream … “the best in the country” he pronounces. So we do. $8 for 2 scoops (nothing is reasonably priced where tourists wander). Yes, nice icecream but for me it’s no different to anywhere else. Still, in 40oC heat, it’s bliss to sit in air conditioning and slurp.

Daryle, being the owner of a boutique brewery, feels a visit to the whiskey distillery is in order. Eventually we depart the distillery with a bottle of limoncello (go figure), and head back to Port Campbell where a swim has become a necessity. No swimsuits or towels on-board so we make do with underwear and the power of drip dry.

When we get back to Bimbi Park, the power is out so we munch cheese and wine on a table outside the kitchen. The rubbish smell is fairly ghastly and the flies are even worse, but it beats being inside. The owner of Bimbi delivers a fan to our hot box so that helps move the stale hot air around. Hopefully a better night’s sleep will ensue.

Read about Day 5 …

Day 3 on the Great Ocean Walk – Cape Otway to Aire River

One of Victoria’s stifling hot 40oC days begins. Our plan is to hike about 20km from Cape Otway lighthouse to Castle Cove, but the lethal north wind may stuff that up.

After the usual time spent getting one car to the end point (Castle Cove) and the other to the start point (Cape Otway), four of us start our hike around 08:30. Daryle went back to the campground and picked up our Irish pals to save them a 6km hike before they’ve even started. The plan is they’ll catch us up. For such a hot day, 08:30 is much too late but it’s difficult to get ourselves going in the morning.

THE START

Fortunately the start of the walk is through ti-tree which provides a good bit of shade. Today I’ve added heavier items to my backpack to see how it handles – no problems at any time so I’m thrilled.

At the start of the hike, there’s an old cemetery to peruse. Here we chat to an older couple on an organised self-guided tour. They’ve hiked a lot in their lives, despite a list of health issues. Other than our group and them, we see no-one else on the track today.

Cape Otway lighthouse cemetery – many died quite young

Daryle and the others quickly catch us up. Walking above Station Beach, we take some stunning pics at a high point. It’s incredibly hot so we’re conscious to keep up our liquids. A hot tip – take a wet towel and drape around your neck. It’s incredible how it keeps you cool.

We spot a few interesting bugs and beetles along the path but other than that, no critters or birds are abounding in this heat.

Approaching Station Beach – stunning views

OH BUOY

Along the way, we spot an abandoned buoy by the path. I rather coveted it, but there was no way I was going to carry it in the heat. Daryle, the most adventurous and crazy of us all, decides it’s just the thing for her micro-brewery so she ties it onto her backpack and there it remains bouncing about for the rest of the day.

Oh buoy oh buoy

On Station Beach, Jen finds a welcome spot in the shade and a late morning tea erupts – plums, shortbread, nuts and sweet treats. Daryle carries a trangier cooker (along with the coveted buoy) and she’s our Chief Water Boiler at every stop. At this point, we have quiet concerns that James and Aiofe don’t have enough water for this very hot day because they don’t have enough to spare for a cuppa – something they both love.

My boots still cramp the toes so they’re promptly removed and on go my hiking sandals – oh sweet relief. We ask the older couple to join us, but they turn us down and continue walking.

ONWARDS

The north wind blows fiercely by this stage, and a walk into the wind along the steep sloping beach is far from pleasant. If there’s one bit of our hike I’d happily cut out, this would be it. Aiofe is particularly suffering with the heat and it’s not going to get better.

Death on the beach

At the end of the beach, we climb up into a fairly shady overhang of trees. We gave Rainbow Falls a miss figuring no rain = no water = no waterfall.

By early afternoon, everyone is struggling with the heat. My wet towel is a saviour but others are dizzy and nauseous at times, no matter how much water we imbibe. I can safely say we all look wrecked.

SPOTTING THE RIVER

On and on we trudge, until eventually Aire River is spotted sparkling in the distance. It’s a beautiful view but all anyone can think about is putting bodily parts into that cool wet stuff.

The downhill run to the river is pure sand, made molten hot from the heat. While my sandals are great quality, they aren’t good enough to withstand molten. Daryle also wore sandals so we ended up literally jogging down, backpacks and buoys rocketing around on our hips, feet burning all the way.

ARRIVAL AT AIRE RIVER

Feet straight in the water. We wait for the others to catch up, while James and Aoife head across the bridge to a pier on the other side. And there they sit. In the sun. We’ve explained to them that with their fair skins, they need to stay out of the sun as much as possible. Aoife already has a nasty dose of sunburn, and she’s burning up in today’s heat. But they dangle their feet over the side of the pier into the water and that seems to create happiness. Who are we to argue!

Oh heaven …

In due course, everyone’s sizzling feet are adequately cool and across the bridge to the camping ground we tramp. Chatting with the helpful chap cleaning the facilities, he advises we’d be right royally stupid to continue – the next section runs into a valley and without the sea breeze, the temp will be over 50oC. He said we wouldn’t be able to drink enough water in the heat to stop heatstroke and would potentially require rescue by helicopter (tempting, if it didn’t cost so much).

We’d already decided it’d be irresponsible to continue, so that settles any concerns about missing the next section because, after all, we did want to walk the whole damned thing. Hiking the whole way is now out the window and up the creek.

By this point the older couple, who should’ve arrived shortly after us, still haven’t turned up. The tour operator arrives in a van and we tell him of our concern. We find out next day that he walked an hour back up the track to discover them overheated, disoriented, stressed and struggling. The heat can be unforgiving, even with experienced hikers.

Our new facility-cleaning-friend drives Aileen to Castle Cove to pick up the car, and drops off James and Aiofe. While that happens, the rest of us enjoy a cool swim in the river with its muddy squishy bottom, but the temperature is magnificent and one feels vaguely alive again.

A late picnic lunch consists of melted cheese, melted hummus, hot tomatoes, hotter carrot sticks, and warm crackers. Finally some bird life appears – blue wrens, pukekos (purple swamp hens), white herons, shags and the usual motley array of birds you see everywhere.

Gear dumped, straight to the lake

END OF DAY

Back at Bimbi Park, we enjoy a three minute shower (all you get for $1), and eventually tootle into Apollo Bay for fish and chips. Don’t buy them from the boat ramp folks – they weren’t good. A poor night’s sleep for all in the stifling hot and airless cabin.

P.S. A text from James later in the day advised they hitchhiked further north and would hike a little more before heading into South Australia. Bet they have a bazillion stories to tell at the end of this!

Read about Day 4 …

Possum wallaby woes

With the big dry affecting many parts of Gippsland in Victoria (Australia), the amount of feed for wallabies, possums and other wildlife has diminished.  So what do they do when there’s no fresh grass?

With drought affecting Phillip Island and no sign of rain on the long term weather forecast, it’s looking a bit grim for the hungry hordes of animals on the reserve out the back of our place.  When they run out of green grass, what do they do? Why, they come checking out nearby properties for any titbit that’s green and edible.

Here the wildlife can choose to browse any number of properties and farms.  However, many are fully fenced, located in suburbia, or don’t have gardens because they’re only occupied for a few months each year.  That leaves places where humans reside during summer, and who plant and tend juicy horticultural things in our gardens.

ONCE UPON A TIME …

Our house backs onto a reserve.  Once upon a time it contained mangroves, shrubs and tall native grasses.  Seawater flooded much of it at high tide.  Of course, it would’ve been loved and used by many animals and hundreds of different birds.

Then a moron came along and turned it into a farm, building a land bridge to stop the tide, and whacking in cows so they could stroll along eating what little grass they could find and trampling on the native grasses, plants and mangroves.

One day about 6-8 years ago (can’t recall exactly when), the moron removed the cows and allowed the land to go back to its natural state.  And wow, has it flourished without that constant trampling.  Unfortunately rabbits and foxes moved in.  The Council undertook a baiting program to remove foxes from the island, but you’ll all know what happens to rabbit numbers when there’s no longer any predators.

MARCH OF THE MULTITUDES

Rabbits aside, the wallabies moved in.  Then the Cape Barren geese built nests in the swaying grasses, along with ducks and purple swamp hens (affectionally called pukekos in our household, because that’s what I knew them as growing up in NZ).

A plethora of other smaller birds also became common, and the possums think life is akin to nirvana.  We’ve even got snakes, echidnas and blue tongued lizards.  It’s helped enormously that a few neighbours added a permanent supply of water in troughs along the boundary fence.

So a multitude of critters great and small now have water, edible food, and places to hide and sleep.  The price they pay for that is competition for food and having to tolerate annoying human beings on one side of the fence.  They get their own back, as you will see.

SUMMER TIME AND THE LIVING IS …

In early summer, the animals and birds are very well behaved.  They eat their grass, wild fruits and seeds, they drink the water, they blink at us from a distance, and in the late afternoon they may visit a human’s property for a sticky beak.

Come late summer, with no decent rain for a few months and grasses effectively dried up, many creatures are struggling to find enough to eat.  So they come a-calling.  Every last single one of them.

WHO’S BAD …

  1. Possums

Possums are by far the worst.  Scungy fluffy cute little critters they may be, but they’re incredibly effective at knocking off everything.

Last week, in one night, they ate the ENTIRE crop of the neighbour’s flourishing and massive passionfruit crop.  That was hard to bear.

You cannot grow herbs or fruits without them being decimated.  Same deal for any vegetables at all – including hot chillies – because they’ll be munched by rats, rabbits, wallabies, possums, pukekos and a few other lurking creatures I’m probably not aware of.

Possums also love flower seedlings, and any plant with pelagonium or geranium in its title.  They pull them out by the roots, leaving nothing to continue growing.

Normally wildlife don’t touch succulents.  But when possums get peckish, the succulent collection is prey to a horror story.  Mine sit on a table above wallaby height, and the possums have to get through a barrage of spikey yukka plants to reach them.  So at this stage, they’re relatively untouched.  The neighbour, however, has suffered a posse of possums having a late night party and knocking the pots off their shelf, followed by the indignity of being trodden on and nibbled.

ALL my geraniums have suffered badly.  The larger ones planted in the garden have been jumped on and squashed flat during a myriad of night time possum parties.  Then they chow down on any juicy new growth, leaving a few bare stalks.  If the geranium is in a pot, it finds itself upside down on the ground and pulled out by its roots.

  1. Wallabies

Next up on the Bad List are the wallabies.  Anything they can reach is subject to a taste test, then nibbled at until destroyed.  Even caught a baby wallaby on my back verandah chewing at a spiny spikey succulent.

When really hungry, they chow down on succulents of all kinds including our huge jade bushes, shrubs (irrelevant whether they’re native or not), pelargoniums, herbs and climbers.

I’ve double fenced many areas, which the weeds have taken advantage of because it’s that much harder to reach over and pull them out.

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Baby wallaby drinking from our dilapidated birdbath

wallaby-who-me
Young wallaby in the reserve – “it wasn’t me …”

  1. Pukekos

Don’t actually mind pukekos.  They just mosey around and mind their own business, pecking the tripes out of the lawn to find juicy bugs.  They’re murder on water sources though –  dig up plants and poop into the water rendering it undrinkable for anything.

  1. Pheasants

Yes you’re correct, pheasants aren’t native to Australia.  Neither are dogs, cats, rabbits, foxes and a squillion other creatures the Brits left us with (yes, I’m from English/Scottish stock so this failure to think things through might’ve had something to do with my ancestors, but I like to think they were smarter than that).

Two pheasants escaped from a (now defunct) local pheasant farm some years ago (see my previous post).  Ferdinand was the original escapee and somehow Felicity has done a runner as well.  We’re very grateful – he was a lonely boy without her.  Figured a snake would’ve got them in the intervening years, but they’re actually alive and well.

They like to scratch through the soil, digging up grass and plants and leaving bare dry earth in its place.  It’s a nuisance, but at least they’re not eating my remaining precious plants or stealing lemons from the neighbour’s lemon tree.

pheasant-bkyard-sml
Ferdinand pecking in the backyard

END OF GARDEN CAPERS

So there you go.  We love the wildlife deeply, even have a possum box on the back verandah, but I really wish they’d go visit someone else’s property.

In the meantime, I continue to learn the lesson to only plant things they hate to eat, and buy all my fruit and vegetables from the supermarket.

You need to be casso-wary

When in Far North Queensland, we visited Hartley’s Crocodile & Wildlife Park near Cairns.  The creature that took my attention was a southern cassowary haughtily marching along the fence of its large enclosure. If you want a bird with wow factor, this one’s a stunning example.

A southern cassowary, for those who’ve not seen one, is a very tall intimidating bird with a boney helmet on its head, a bright blue neck and drooping red wattles. Unless you’re waddling around a zoo, you’ll only see these in tropical rainforests in north-east Queensland.

Why you should be wary of a cassowary

Cassowaries are actually quite shy and prefer to disappear into the forest before you remotely figure out they’re there.

The ladies are bigger and more brightly coloured than the men (as it should be). Height-wise they can grow to 2m (6.6ft). They’ve got tiny wings hence no flying about – and each of their three-toed feet has a second toe sporting a very sharp dagger-like claw.

This claw is why you need to be wary of a cassowary. If you annoy one too much, it could slice you with that claw and spill your intestines onto the grass below. You certainly don’t want to chase one through the dense forest either because they can jump up to 1.5m (5ft), swim across raging rivers and over the sea, and belt through dense forest at speeds up to 50kph (31mph).

However, in the real world, there’s only one documented death of a human from a whack by a cassowary and that was way back in 1926. Two boys, 13 and 16 year old brothers, saw a cassowary on their Dad’s property and because they were idiots, thought they’d kill the bird by whacking it with clubs.

The bird kicked the 13 year old, who ran off. His older brother then struck the bird. He tripped and fell and the cassowary took the opportunity to kick him in the neck which probably severed his jugular vein. One kaput 16 year old. Personally I vote for the bird.

If you like statistics, there were 221 attacks in 2003 of which 150 were against humans. This was mostly because humans fed the cassowaries (a big no-no) and the birds came to expect or snatch the food. Most of the other attacks were because the male was defending its nest.

This was my favourite painting to do. Who’d have thought cassowaries and boots could be such fun. Sadly I made it too tall and then couldn’t decide if I should cut the bottom part of the boot off, or the top of the cassowary’s head. The compromise was to fold down the top so you can open up the painting and see the lot.

Cassowary hi-jinks

The boney helmet on top of a cassowary’s head (called a casque) grows as they age, but it’s not really known what the casque is for. Perhaps it:

  • helps them smash through undergrowth so they don’t hurt their heads
  • enables them to push leaf litter around while scratching for tasty treats
  • enables them to smack other cassowaries around when fighting over who’s the biggest dude in the forest
  • amplifies low-frequency sounds made by cassowaries who are ready for a bit of naughty fun. That’s my theory. Feel free to make up your own.

Cassowaries munch on fallen fruit (their favourite), flowers, fungi, snails, insects, fish, frogs, rats, mice and dead creatures. Because they eat fruit whole, they’re VERY important for distributing plant species through the forest.

Each year, their solitary lifestyle is interrupted when a female or male decide it’s time for a bit of sexual proliferation. Males may share a female, but females will not tolerate another female hanging in their space.

In May or June, Mrs Cassowary lays 3-8 eggs in a heap of leaves, then Mr C moves in for nine months to incubate the eggs and look after the little chickies. I’m starting to think female cassowaries have it all worked out.

Wild cassowaries are thought to live to about 40 to 50 years. It’s endangered because humans run vehicles over them, dogs attack them, they get shot, tangled in fence wire, habitat destroyed by humans or cyclones, or they die from disease. Then feral pigs eat their eggs and other creatures eat their food supplies. It’s not a marvellous outcome.

So treat these birds with respect and behave yourself in the forest, then you needn’t be too wary of the magnificent cassowary!

sketchbook-project-cassowary-dwoodley-desk
My desk with the cassowary painting in action

Bluey’s search for a sole

Last summer, while moving soil around the garden with the wheelbarrow, I ran over a long solid object. First thought – “why did the ol’ fellow leave the hose there?  What an odd place to put it.”

Micro-seconds later, I clicked it wasn’t a hose … and then gave myself a terrible fright thinking it was a snake. They’re beautiful creatures but there’s not a single non-poisonous snake in Australia, and Phillip Island certainly has its fair share of them slithering about. Running one over isn’t something you really want to do.

So with pounding pulse, I leapt about 30 feet into the air before realising it was actually an adult blue-tongue lizard I’d just abused.

The wheelbarrow was empty so no harm done and fortunately they’re very solid … although I’m sure the blue-tongue was deeply unimpressed. He lay there stock still, very embarrassed to be caught out.

At this point, to avoid further damage, I picked him up in gloved hands and gently placed him beyond the rear wire fence out of harm’s way. To my relief, he promptly took off for the safety of a fallen log.

This lizard really does have a blue tongue. If you watch quietly and don’t run over them with garden implements, you’ll easily spot that beautiful blue toned appendage flicking in and out.

This painting was a pleasure to do, particularly the canvas sneaker. I wanted the shoe to sit on the blue tongue’s back, to show he’d sneaked off and stolen it in his search for a sole. Hopefully it doesn’t look like he’s being squashed by it!

Bluey’s habits

Did you know we’ve got six species of blue-tongue lizard in Oz? Nope, I didn’t either. It’s a splendid number you have to admit.

They have a long body with a large head and short legs – hence the initial thinking that it was a snake. The legs aren’t initially that obvious. However they have a rather short tail which tapers off to a point, unlike our friend the snake with their l-o-n-g tails.

Blue-tongue lizards are found throughout most of Australia. We’ve seen them in all the Australian States visited so far, usually in unexpected places seeking out warmth or chasing something to fill their tummies.

At night they hide under leaf litter, in burrows or under rocks and logs. Once morning arrives, they meander about to find sunny spots for basking, and forage around for breakfast.

They eat all sorts of things including a wide variety of vegetation and invertebrates. With their large teeth and strong jaws, they easily crush snail shells and beetles. We have some pretty weird beetles lurking about, so they’re most welcome to those.

Blue-tongues prefer their own company most of the year. Then between September and November, the males go hunting females for a good time. They get rather rough though, and females can end up with scrape marks from the male’s teeth. I’m so glad I’m not a lizard.

And what’s that blue tongue for? When threatened, they open their mouth wide and poke out their tongue, which contrasts vividly with the pink mouth. Allegedly this colour combo scares away evil predators and dreadful human beings. Doesn’t work with wheelbarrows though.

Topsy turvy turtles

Truth to tell, I haven’t personally seen a Eastern Long Necked Turtle doing its thing in the natural world.

In late 2015, I saw a wonderful photo in one of Melbourne’s daily newspapers. Someone had piled three young turtles on top of each other at the Wild Action Zoo. They perched there looking highly alarmed while a photographer possibly frightened the tripes out of them taking a pic.

Still, the photo appealed so I hung onto it in expectation it might come in useful. Which it surely did.

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The article in question …

For the Sketchbook Project, I decided to draw two turtles atop each other but give one a smile because she’d grabbed a high heel shoe with her rear foot.

This painting turned out tricky to execute because of the large amount of dark shadows between the two turtles.

Thus it was particularly difficult to delineate one turtle shell from the other, and required much fiddling about so they didn’t completely meld into each other.

Don’t know that I was wildly successful – time consuming trying to get it right for this amateur.  Oddly, the rock on which they were perched ended up being the stickiest part to get right. C’est la vie!

Oh those naughty turtles

The Eastern Long Neck turtle (Chelodina longicollis) can be found lurking in various areas across South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and northern parts of Queensland.

They adore swimming about in fresh water and are quite common, which was a surprise. Made me realise I rarely swim in fresh water looking for creatures, plus one would need to know where to look and carry diving gear.

They’re rather naughty too, these turtles. If one comes into contact with another species called Chelodina canni up there in Queensland, they’ll mess around together and produce lots of vibrant hybrid babies.

Our turtle has a variety of names including ‘snake-necked turtle’ and ‘stinker’. When one feels threatened, a charmingly offensive smelling fluid is emitted from their musk glands.

Our smelly turtle is carnivorous and munches through a variety of critters including insects, worms, tadpoles, frogs, small fish, molluscs and crayfish.

And if you’re wondering what the point of their long necks is, they use them at mealtimes to rapidly strike at any unfortunate creature passing by.

Double goosey gander

Ever met a Cape Barren goose?  No?  Then you’re in for a treat.

You won’t find this lovely hued goose anywhere other than Australia. They reside in the southern coast of Western Australia and in south-eastern Victoria, although we’ve only seen them on Phillip Island, where we are based.

They rank as one of the world’s rarest geese which makes them very special. Fortunately there are more of these geese kicking their heels up today than at any time since the settlement of Australia. This is apparently due to the improvement of pastures in which they graze – so much more to eat.

How about a magpie goose? They’re common in northern Australia and used to be widespread in southern Australia. However, the usual story – humans stuffed that up by draining the wetlands where the birds breed.

The Cape Barren goose and the magpie goose hang out at opposite ends of Australia. The monochromatic orange legged magpie goose lives in coastal northern and eastern Australia, and southern New Guinea as well.

Introducing the Cape Barren goose …

This gorgeous critter was rarely seen on Phillip Island. However, in recent years, they’ve become surprisingly common. They’re still classed as vulnerable or rare, so it’s a magnificent pleasure to see their numbers steadily increasing. Occasionally we’re treated to the sight of dozens of birds making merry together in grassy fields overlooking the bay.

This goose is a grazing bird and munches happily on common island tussock grass (Poa poiformis for those of you busting to know the Latin name). They’re also partial to chowing down on spear grass, herbs and succulents, pasture grasses such as barley and clover, and legumes.

They tend to hang about in pairs – it’s unusual to see one on its own. In autumn, Mum lays her eggs in a nest in the tussocks on open grasslands. To ensure he contributes equally to the equation, Dad builds the nest and lines it nicely with down.

Then they noisily defend it against other crazy geese. Like many humans, they’re monogamous and hang together for life. Mum incubates the eggs but the babies are brought up by both parents.

The birds on Phillip Island are wary of humans but they allow you get relatively close. Bird couples seem to inhabit the same areas all year around. We do a count every time we leave the island and you can almost always find the birds in the same fields.

Because their colouring is quite amazing, I decided to include one in my sketchbook. Both geese are tearing about on wheels and the Cape Barren goose has the dubious distinction of being on a skateboard.

And now for the magpie goose …

When wandering past the Port Douglas golf course on our northern Queensland meander, I spotted a gaggle of magpie geese picking around the edge of the grass.

They have a black neck and head, with a knob on the crown of the beak which increases in size with age. Bit like a female bottom really.

The underparts are white and the bits I like best – the bill, legs and feet – are orange. Where they differ from most waterfowl is they don’t have fully webbed feet. Instead they have strong clawed toes that are only partially webbed. I’m sure you all wanted to know that.

They’re very partial to chowing down on aquatic vegetation – mostly wild rice, paspalum, panicum and spike-rush, none of which seems too appealing to me.

Magpie geese build nests in secluded places, preferably close to wetlands. Like the Cape Barren goose, Dad builds the nest.

Mum and Dad mate for life, but a male might cohabit with two females. Why is it you always hear the story of one guy with two girls?  Why not the other way around?  And who’d have thought geese would have such proclivity towards this behaviour.

Fortunately all adults share incubation and care for their babies.

Given the magpie goose isn’t very keen to make your acquaintance, he’s on skates for a quick getaway.

Painting the geese

Thought I needed a wider drawing than the paper width of the journal allows, so started off with 3 sections (which you’ll see in the first 2 illustrations).  Eventually I gave away the first section to ensure it fitted correctly.

My Cape Barren goose was surprisingly tricky to get the colours right.  Not too happy with him and I’d redo if there was more time.  However, it gives you an idea of how cute he might be 🙂

Reverse shark attack!

Great white sharks (carcharodon carcharias if you’re a mad shark scientist) are a fearsome creature. They have very big teeth, swim damned fast, live in many oceans around the world, and are responsible for the largest number of fatal attacks on people. Our snakes, spiders and wombats can’t compete with them for knocking off humans.

In Australia, this summer saw a flurry of great whites lurking around New South Wales and South Australian beaches. Unprovoked attacks caused death, mayhem and serious injury, and closed beaches during the best time of the year for swimming. This is a very grim state of affairs when the sun is shining and the glittering water is calling.

If there’s one creature that terrifies most Australians, it’s the great white shark. Any hint of one and we won’t get in the water. Not a chance.

Personally I’m more concerned about saltwater crocodiles in far north Queensland. The water can get murky on the beach and you imagine one of these scaly toothed critters creeping out of the nearby river and lurking in the shallows, waiting for the moment when you swim right into its jaws. In reality, the likelihood of this is incredibly low.  On average, only one person a year gets themselves terminated by a croc.  You’re more likely to be eaten by a shark but only just – only 135 known shark fatalities in Australia in the last 100 years.  That’s not so bad.

Although I haven’t personally encountered a great white shark while swimming in Australian waters,  I’ve watched enough TV programs showing attacks on divers in cages and the news always avidly shows surfers being bitten during competitions. That’s close enough thanks.

About the painting

Found a photo of a great white shark in a Jetstar magazine when flying to Cairns from Melbourne.  On another page was an advertisement showing a photo of a woman floating through the ocean.

I sketched the shark for a spot of practise. Then in a micro-second of inspiration, I sketched the woman underneath, adding a snorkel, swimsuit and fins. And that was that, end of practise.  Until I went looking for creatures to paint for my Sketchbook project journal.  The shark’s teeth jumped out at me.

The final painting is essentially a simple copy of the original sketch with just a few tweaks – mostly the addition of fear in our shark’s eyes, and a high heel shoe with which to attack the shark.  Not that I advocate bashing sharks with high heels (or spear guns either for that matter).  Much better to get out of the water when you see that fin come splicing through the water.

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